Show us your income tax returns, Najib

This article was in respond to “Tax evaders are traitors – Najib – Bernama

PM Najib Razak recently called tax evaders “traitors”. Columnist Kee Thuan Chye has a proposal for him which he hopes Najib will accept to prove his sincerity and accountability as a leader.

Dear Najib,

You have come out to call tax evaders traitors. That’s a very strong word. If you had used it on corrupt public officials and politicians, especially government ministers, that would have been more apt. It would have struck a resonant chord. It would also have indicated your seriousness in fighting corruption within your ranks.

As it is, according to your minister Paul Low, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) arrested nine politicians who were reported to be involved in corruption between 2010 and August 2013, and only five have been charged. That’s a pretty low number over the course of four years. The minister did not clarify who these politicians were, but one would presume that they were part of the ruling party.

It may well be that Malaysian politicians, including those holding public office, are generally clean, but the unofficial allegations that have been brought up from time to time tell us a hugely different story. You may be aware of them yourself – allegations about this minister living beyond his means, like building a palatial home, and that minister receiving kickbacks or laundering money for his so-called “adopted son”. And of course the biggie surrounding Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and his relatives, some of whom were caught on video earlier this year by the international NGO Global Witness allegedly offering logging licences in return for profit.

Only a few days ago, Sarawak Report exposed another alleged scheme of Taib and his family in exploiting the Bandar Samariang low-cost housing project for their own financial gain. If these allegations about the family are true, what would you call the people involved? More important, would you launch an investigation and haul them in for corruption?

Okay, let’s get back to the tax evaders issue. I have a proposal for you that I hope you will accept to prove your sincerity and accountability as a leader.

Since you call tax evaders traitors, show us you are not one. Release your income tax returns to the public. Let us know how much income you make, what assets you own and how much tax you pay. Get your ministers to do the same. Show us that you are not a traitor, that you do not under-declare your income or resort to tax shelters in order to pay less tax.

Don’t try and back out of this one, with some excuse or other. The US president publicly reveals his income tax returns and declares how much tax he pays. And that’s good, don’t you think? He apparently has nothing to hide. Even if he tried to, it’s all out there in the open. If he’s found out later, he can be held accountable.

You should do the same. Since you condemn others for evading tax, it is all the more incumbent on you now to show that you are not doing it yourself. You probably know the saying, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

For your information, the tax returns of US presidents are protected by law from public disclosure, but since the late 1960s, most of them have chosen to release their returns publicly. Apparently, Gerald Ford is the only exception. Even candidates for the presidency do the same, including those contesting in party primaries.

If you want to look at the combined tax returns of Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, for 2012, please click here.

Barack and Michelle reported an adjusted gross income of US$608,611. They both paid US$112,214 in total tax. It could have been higher if they had not donated about 24.6 per cent of their adjusted gross income to charity. That’s a generous US$150,034.

Out of curiosity, may I ask how much you donate to charity? You may of course include your wife’s donations too, if you like. Oh, by the way, does she pay income tax?

On top of the federal income tax, the Obamas also released their state tax returns and reported paying US$29,450 to their home state of Illinois.

For Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife Jill’s combined federal tax returns for 2012, have a look here.

They reported an adjusted gross income of US$385,072 and paid US$87,851 in total tax. For state income tax, they filed separate returns, with Jill filing a non-resident one for the state of Virginia. They paid US$13,531 to Delaware and US$3,593 to Virginia.

The Bidens gave to charity US$7,190. That’s a small fraction of what the Obamas donated, but that’s not the point.

The point is, don’t you think this sort of declaration contributes to a wonderful and open system?

Other countries that operate with such openness and transparency include Sweden, Finland and Norway. In fact, there, everyone’s income tax returns are made public. It is said to cohere with the Scandinavian tradition of jantelag, which roughly means that nobody is better than anyone else.

It should also cohere with the “best democracy” that you promised for Malaysia in the speech you made on September 16, 2011. Don’t you agree?

If you recall, on that occasion, you announced the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which effectively outlawed the use of preventive detention in Malaysia. Now that preventive detention is back – reinstated through the recent amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act – does your promise of “best democracy” still hold true?

In that speech, you also said the repeal of the ISA was part of the political transformation that your government was carrying out pertaining to human rights. You said, “The time has come for us to take another step forward not only in economics and education but also in upholding democratic principles.”

Do you still believe that?

If you do, walk the talk. For now, to put your money where your mouth is, disclose your tax returns publicly. And get your deputy and your other ministers to do the same. Be a leader and lead the way. Prove to us that you can lead.

Otherwise, you are just sounding like a prime minister who is talking in abrasive language because your coalition didn’t win the popular vote at the last general election in May.

Otherwise, we will not know for sure that you are not a traitor – like any vile, shameful, despicable, crooked, cheapskate tax evader.



* Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to MSN Malaysia

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit , now available in bookstores.

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